Lancashire Times
A Voice of the Free Press
Graham Read
Formula 1 Correspondent
11:50 PM 22nd October 2023

Verstappen Flies To Sprint And Grand Prix Wins In Texas

This year’s Formula 1 world champion Max Verstappen continued his rich vein of form at the Circuit of the Americas in Texas this weekend by taking victories in both yesterday’s Sprint race and today’s Grand Prix, notching up a career tally of 50 F1 wins despite only being 26 years old.

Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was again on top form
Red Bull’s Max Verstappen was again on top form
Following the Qatar Grand Prix a fortnight ago there had understandably been much comment about the extreme conditions the drivers had had to race under, with excessive heat and humidity a major problem. This had been exacerbated by tyre safety concerns, which led to the race being a series of full pace sprints rather than the usual mix of flat out running interspersed with slightly slower tyre management phases, which are less punishing on both the cars and human bodies. Qatar still has a further nine years to run on its high value F1 contract, but fortunately the 2024 event is scheduled to be the penultimate one of the season on 1 December when conditions should be less punishing. Formula 1 Management would be very reluctant to drop Qatar from the calendar as the country pays one of the highest hosting fees to bring the F1 circus to town, something it can well afford with at current prices $3 trillion of oil reserves still available for extraction. This is an awful lot of money, but we need to remember that nearby Saudi Arabia still has, on the same basis, $22 trillion of oil reserves. Meanwhile, back in Europe the Belgian Grand Prix has had its current contract extended by a year, meaning that Formula 1 will race at the iconic Spa Francorchamps circuit until at least 2025.

In other news, the ex-F1 team owner and subsequent longtime overall supremo Bernie Ecclestone pleaded guilty to fraud by false representation at Southwark Crown Court on 12 October for having failed to declare back in 2015 over £400m of offshore assets held in Singapore. Following an extensive HMRC probe, during which Ecclestone had initially explained that he was uncertain as to whether any tax was payable in relation to the assets, the 92-year-old was given a 17-month prison sentence, suspended for two years, and has reached a £652m settlement with the UK’s tax gathering body to bring the investigation to a close.

2023 Formula 1 United States Grand Prix

1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 1hr35m21.362s
2 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +2.225s
3 Lando Norris (McLaren) +10.730s
4 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +15.134s
5 Sergio Pérez (Red Bull) +18.460s
6 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +24.662s
7 George Russell (Mercedes) +24.999s
8 Pierre Gasly (Alpine) +47.996s
9 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) +48.696s
10 Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) +1m14.385s
11 Alex Albon (Williams) +1m26.714s
12 Logan Sargeant (Williams) +1m27.998s
13 Nico Hülkenberg (Haas) +1m29.904s
14 Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +1m38.601s
15 Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo) Lapped
16 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) Lapped
17 Daniel Ricciardo (AlphaTauri) Lapped
18 Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) Retired
19 Oscar Piastri (McLaren) Retired
20 Esteban Ocon (Alpine) Retired

On the subject of current F1 drivers, Aston Martin’s Lance Stroll has been given a written formal warning by the FIA governing body after his at times truculent behaviour during the previous round in Qatar. Also, after Sir Lewis Hamilton had clashed with his Mercedes team-mate George Russell at the first corner of the Grand Prix in Qatar and instantly found himself out of the race, the vastly experienced multiple champion had nevertheless chosen to break longstanding safety regulations by opting to cross the live circuit on foot to return to the pits and just before the pack of remaining cars was due to pass by. After the race the stewards reprimanded him and gave him a 50,000 Euros fine, half of which was suspended unless there was a further similar breach this season. However, the FIA then revealed its intention to investigate the matter further, not to increase the penalty for the apologetic Hamilton, but to make any similar punishments higher in the future to help deter any such flaunting of the safety regulations by other F1 drivers and those competing in lower levels of motorsport. The maximum fine for competitors under the FIA’s International Sporting Code was subsequently increased from 250,000 Euros to one million Euros, a change which certainly caught the attention of the drivers!

AlphaTauri’s Daniel Ricciardo returned to the cockpit this weekend for the first time since suffering a metacarpal fracture in his left hand back in late August, with his impressive deputy Liam Lawson still present in Texas as the Red Bull and AlphaTauri reserve driver. The 21 year old Kiwi will however be concentrating on trying to win this year’s Super Formula title in Japan, where he currently sits second in the standings. Another driver, whose F1 future has been the subject of much ongoing speculation within the paddock, is Red Bull’s Sergio Pérez. After a promising start to the season the Mexican has since performed poorly despite being in this year’s title-winning car and this has been particularly noticeable following the summer break. Pérez may have been long contracted to Red Bull for next year too, but, having scored just five points in the last four races before Texas, he will need to significantly improve between now and the end of the season to stop the team actively considering potential replacements. Rumours are rife about whom this might be, with Red Bull’s Dr Helmut Marko recently pointing to McLaren’s Lando Norris as an ideal team-mate for Verstappen, if currently contracted to McLaren until the end of the 2025 season. Meanwhile, as everyone congregated in Texas it was interesting to note that Verstappen had already scored 433 points this season, with the combined Mercedes and Ferrari team totals only being 326 and 298 respectively, meaning that the Dutch racer would still have been leading the Constructors’ Championship for Red Bull through his own efforts alone and without a team-mate.

Red Bull’s cars bore an eye-catching one-off fan-designed livery this weekend
Red Bull’s cars bore an eye-catching one-off fan-designed livery this weekend
Both Full and Virtual Safety Car interventions have featured in the past during Grands Prix at this Texan circuit just outside the attractive city of Austin and DRS overtaking opportunities have traditionally been possible on the wide uphill rise to the opening lefthander and in the hard braking zone approaching Turn 12. This was another F1 Sprint weekend, meaning Friday featured a sole free practice session, followed by a qualifying hour to set the grid for today’s Grand Prix, and as Red Bull’s RB19 took to the track it bore a special livery incorporating the flag of the Texan Lone Star State. This followed an initiative during which fans were encouraged to submit design ideas for each of the three Grands Prix in the USA this season at Miami, the Circuit of the Americas and Las Vegas.

Following the practice period it was Verstappen who had topped the timesheets ahead of Ferrari’s Charles Leclerc and Hamilton and in the closing stages of qualifying for today’s Grand Prix the new world champion went quickest, but his time was quickly deleted due to a track limits breach at Turn 19, caused as he sought to make up for a first corner issue. This left Leclerc to claim pole position ahead of Norris, Hamilton and the Ferrari of Carlos Sainz, with Verstappen set to start only sixth.

Yesterday though was initially all about Sprint Shootout qualifying to set the grid for the following 19 lap Sprint race and it was Verstappen who this time made sure of pole, edging it from Leclerc, Hamilton and Norris as four different teams featured in the leading quartet. Sprint races can be fun and very watchable, but this Texan version wasn’t exactly edge of the seat material. At the start Verstappen was fully occupied keeping Leclerc at bay and a little off-track excursion for Hamilton on the exit of Turn 1 helped him to move upto second himself, but the Red Bull lead driver then cruised comfortably to a further victory, his third in Sprints this season. Hamilton retained the runner’s up spot to the chequered flag, if ultimately over nine seconds adrift of the winner, but was never threatened by an equally distant Leclerc in third. All bar Sainz ran on medium specification tyres and, although the soft shod Spaniard moved upto fourth on the opening lap, he subsequently dropped back to his sixth place starting position. Russell did his best to usurp him, but ultimately ended up eighth behind Alpine’s Pierre Gasly after receiving a questionable five-second penalty for gaining an advantage whilst leaving the track.

Lewis Hamilton drove well to claim a pair of second place finishes
Lewis Hamilton drove well to claim a pair of second place finishes
It was hoped that today’s Grand Prix might provide some closer action at the front of the field and particularly as Verstappen would be lining up on the third row of the grid. It was noticeably warmer than yesterday as the race start neared and the formation lap began at precisely 2pm local time (8pm back in the UK). When those famous red lights were extinguished it was Norris who made a great start to take an early lead ahead of Leclerc, Sainz and Hamilton before the latter and Verstappen began to move up the order.

It was Verstappen who was subsequently the first of the frontrunners to pit on lap 17, with Norris and Sainz soon doing likewise. Three tours later Mercedes brought both of its drivers in for their initial stops and this left the still to pit Leclerc out front ahead of Norris, Verstappen and Hamilton. Soon Norris led, but on lap 28 Verstappen swept past his good friend at the end of the back straight before a second series of pitstops for all bar Leclerc ensued. By lap 43 the top three runners were Verstappen, Norris and Hamilton and six tours later Hamilton proceeded to get the better of Norris at Turn 2.

L-R) Lando Norris and George Russell both started their 100th F1 race this weekend
L-R) Lando Norris and George Russell both started their 100th F1 race this weekend
At this stage in the race the leading Verstappen was having to manage a brake issue and Hamilton started to close the distance to the frontman, but he was never quite near enough to raise a real challenge. This meant that Verstappen, Hamilton and Norris enjoyed the post Grand Prix podium celebrations, with Sainz, Pérez and Leclerc completing the top sextet of finishers. AlphaTauri’s Yuki Tsunoda, who was tenth, was also thrilled to claim the additional point for setting the fastest lap of the race right at the very end.

This latest visit to Texas represented the first part of a logistically challenging tripleheader, with the F1 circus now set to head south to Mexico for next weekend and then even further south again to Brazil for the weekend after that. A brilliant adventure for all involved as long as someone else is footing the extensive travel and accomodation bills!

2023 Formula 1 United States Sprint

1 Max Verstappen (Red Bull) 31m30.849s
2 Lewis Hamilton (Mercedes) +9.465s
3 Charles Leclerc (Ferrari) +17.987s
4 Lando Norris (McLaren) +18.863s
5 Sergio Përez (Red Bull) +22.928s
6 Carlos Sainz (Ferrari) +28.407s
7 Pierre Gasly (Alpine) +32.403s
8 George Russell (Mercedes) +34.250s
9 Alex Albon (Williams) +34.567s
10 Oscar Piastri (McLaren) +42.403s
11 Esteban Ocon (Alpine) +44.986s
12 Daniel Ricciardo (AlphaTauri) +45.509s
13 Fernando Alonso (Aston Martin) +49.086s
14 Yuki Tsunoda (AlphaTauri) +49.733s
15 Nico Hülkenberg (Haas) +56.650s
16 Valtteri Bottas (Alfa Romeo) +1m4.401s
17 Zhou Guanyu (Alfa Romeo) +1m7.972s
18 Kevin Magnussen (Haas) +1m11.122s
19 Logan Sargeant (Williams) +1m11.449s
20 Lance Stroll (Aston Martin) Retired

2023 Formula 1 Drivers’ Championship

1 Max Verstappen 466
2 Sergio Pérez 238
3 Lewis Hamilton 219

2023 Formula 1 Constructors’ Championship

1 Red Bull 704
2 Mercedes 358
3 Ferrari 327